Trial of Uzbek Militants Delayed

APPresident Karimov blamed Hizb ut-Tahrir for sowing Islamic militancy in Central Asia.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- The trial of alleged al-Qaida-tied militants accused in a wave of violence in March and April was adjourned Monday, during the first court proceedings since Islamic militants were blamed for new suicide attacks last week on the U.S. and Israeli embassies.

President Islam Karimov has said the same militants are behind both waves of attacks, and separately has blamed another Muslim group -- Hizb ut-Tahrir -- for sowing Islamic militancy throughout Uzbekistan.

Hizb ut-Tahrir denied responsibility for any violence, including Friday's suicide bombings, which also struck the Uzbek chief prosecutor's office and killed at least three Uzbeks guarding the embassies.

Judge Bakhtiyor Jamalov said the trial, which opened last week, was being put off until an unspecified date due to a defense attorney's illness.

The 15 defendants are accused in violence including suicide bombings and clashes with security forces that left at least 47 people dead earlier this year. They were absent from the courtroom at the tightly secured Supreme Court building.

An Islamic group not known here claimed responsibility for Friday's violence and said the attacks were on behalf of its "brothers" on trial. The web site statement from the Islamic Jihad Group was signed "your brother in Bukhara, Mohammed al-Fatteh." Several of those on trial are from the Bukhara region.

Karimov urged Uzbeks in a weekend television address to resist extremist Islamic influence in the form of Hizb ut-Tahrir and lashed out at international human rights organizations that he said protected the group.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose Arabic name means Party of Liberation, claims to disavow violence in its quest to create a worldwide Islamic state, but Karimov questioned how a change in government could be possible without violence.

Karimov's authoritarian regime tolerates no dissent, the opposition is banned and there are no independent media.

Hizb ut-Tahrir's office in Britain, where it operates openly, denied responsibility for the suicide attacks in a statement late Sunday. It is not clear how directly linked the British office is to Hizb ut-Tahrir followers in Central Asia.

Hizb ut-Tahrir "denies any involvement whatsoever in Friday's bombings in Tashkent," the group said. "Hizb ut-Tahrir does not engage in terrorism, violence or armed struggle."

The group is banned across Central Asia but has faced the harshest crackdown in Uzbekistan, where human rights activists say Karimov's regime has jailed at least 6,000 Muslims who choose to worship outside the country's state-run mosques since the 1990s.

Hizb ut-Tahrir expressed concern that the latest attacks would spark a renewed crackdown, which human rights activists have alleged already began after the attacks earlier this year.

"Such events are utilized by the Uzbek regime, under the guise of the war on terror, as a justification for the increased oppression of Muslims who work peacefully for Islam," the group said.

The defendants in the trial, under questioning by the judge, have said their group's ideology is based on Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Uzbek officials previously have said that the group behind the March-April violence was called Jamoat, or Society, and that it ran training camps in Pakistan where they were taught by Arab al-Qaida instructors.